Homily on the Feast of Holy Family
They took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (Lk 2:22)
The Church continues to festively proclaim Christ’s birth in an Octave: Christ chose to be born and grow up in the bosom of the holy family of Joseph and Mary. Christ dwelt in the extremely basic block of our society, a family! To explain the importance of families for the Church and the society, I recall this story:
In 2001, I was in Rome studying theology, my final preparation to be ordained to the priesthood. The seminary planned a Holy Land Pilgrimage in the spring of the following year. Then, 9/11 happened and all bishops in the United States would not permit their students to go to the Holy Land. So, the coordinator of this trip, a biblical scholar having many connections, suggested that we should travel to Russia to see the Church there after the “Soviet” time. It was a wonderful plan, and I learned many things. One of those things was the importance of families in the Church. It all happened when we asked our tour guide, who was Russian, to answer this question: What was life during the communist time and how was it now that communism had collapsed? She told us that during the communist time, the oppressed regime tried to destroy the Church by splitting families, i.e., mom and dad were separated from each other and children due to hard labor camps. When families were broken, the life of the Church was hurt deeply. Then, after the collapse of communism, people embraced a false sense of happiness, namely material goods as the measure of success. “Relationships and families were the highest goods; and now that is replaced with materialism.” Then, tears falling from her eyes, she continued: “Sometimes I just cry for my country.” Her comment about the suffering of the Church due to the destruction of families is so important for us to keep in mind on this Feast of Holy Family.
From the beginning, the core of the Church was often constituted by those who had become believers together with their household. For this reason, the Second Vatican Council, using an ancient expression, calls the family the Ecclesia domestica/domestic Church. It is in the bosom of the family that parents are “by word and example . . . the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children. They should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each child, fostering with special care any religious vocation” (Lumen Gentium no. 11). In this Feast, God gives us “the shining example of the Holy Family” so as to imitate them “in practicing the virtues of family life” (see the Collect at Mass).
What are the virtues of family life that each member of our individual families must imitate? Given that this is the Year of St. Joseph, let us ponder on the virtue of the Guardian of the Redeemer. For this, we go to the beginning of the Gospel: “When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord” (Lk 2:22-24). Let us focus on two details in this account: their purification and what they offer to fulfill the law of the Lord.
First, syntactically, “their purification” must refer to Mary and Joseph, although Mosaic Law never mentions the purification of the husband. For example, Leviticus 12:2–8 states the woman who gives birth to a boy is unable for forty days to touch anything sacred or to enter the temple area by reason of her legal impurity. At the end of this period she is to follow the ritual of purification. The Holy Scriptures used the pronoun “their” to teach us the importance all individuals in a family. In this Family of Nazareth, St. Joseph never avoided his sacred duties as a father and husband. For this reason, he accompanied his family to the temple for the purification. It is a wonderful lesson for all men in the parish: your individual family needs you to take on your role with all seriousness and love!
Secondly, they offered “the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” According to Mosaic Law, during the purification after birth, people offer a year-old lamb as a burnt offering and a turtledove or young pigeon as expiation. Those who could not afford a lamb offered instead two turtledoves or two young pigeons. This is what Mary and Joseph did. The Family of Nazareth was very humble and in the midst of their poverty, they still fulfilled the law of the Lord. Here is another virtue of family we must imitate, which we especially see in St. Joseph. In all circumstances, show honor and respect to the Lord. To all the fathers in the parish, imitate St. Joseph in teaching your children their duties to the Lord, especially teaching them how to pray and be a role model for your children in worshipping the Lord. An example would be to participate in the Holy Eucharist every Sunday. Do not fall into the trap of I will wait to commit the life of faith at other times. God calls you to be a role model to your children now in your present condition!
Much more can be said in terms of imitating the Holy Family in living the virtues of family life. We expand on this on the upcoming Solemnity of Mary, Mother of the Lord. Today, may St. Joseph be a model for the men of in parish: Be a good father/grandfather/ in your family. Remember that your family is a domestic Church! The holiness we see in the universal Church we would like to see happen in the dining room of your homes as well. Or another way to put it, the holiness of our individual families adds so much to the goodness and beauty of our universal Church. May the warning of the tour guide which I heard many years ago be awakening for us all: The Church suffers greatly when our families are broken and falling apart.
On this Feast, may Jesus, Mary and Joseph bless all our individual families! May all the domestic Churches be flourished, holy, and filled with joy in the challenges of this world! Amen.